J. Cole: “The album was recorded in a lot of places because I move around so much. A lot of it was recorded in Quiet Studios in New York and Tree Sound Studios in Atlanta. Plus I did some at Roc the Mic Studios.
“[The vibe in the studio] is focused. If anything, there’s alcohol around. Earlier on, I had enough energy where I could drink and work. Now, I can’t because that shit gets me tired. I’ve got to be all the way pure in my thoughts and energy.
With Friday Night Lights, as classic as that is to me, if that was an album and you removed about four songs, then it’s officially a classic. If you remove some songs, you can play it front to back. - J. Cole
“In the studio, it’s straight to business. We might spend a whole studio session every now and then just talking because you need that. You just need to have conversations, laugh, and bullshit looking at YouTube videos. But for the most part, when we’re in the studio it’s album time. A lot of my studio sessions are spent working on beats.
“Mark [Pitts, my manager] told me [last-minute situations] always happen with albums. I don’t know if it’s because it’s my first time, but once you get to the end of the album, all the pieces start coming into place. Up until the [end of the summer] I’d just been making songs.
“[The album is] never real until you get that deadline. As you get closer to that deadline, that’s when things start becoming real. Things start to change. We’re always working up until those points, but you have more focus [as you approach the deadline]. It’s like the engine’s still moving, but the direction is really more clear. You go grab that last feature or you make that last song.
“Then, you’ve got to do the sequence. I had a bunch of songs that I played them at the listening session, which is great. But the sequencing was hard with all those songs. There were so many songs and they were all good.
“When I listen to Friday Night Lights and The Warm Up, I knew there was songs that I would maybe skip. I was like, ‘I’m just putting this one on here because of this.’ You’ve got that freedom because it’s a mixtape. On an album, the whole thing has to flow.
That was the one thing I realized, the difference between it being a good album or a classic, is the sequencing.
- J. Cole
“With Friday Night Lights, as classic as that is to me, if that was an album and you removed about four songs, then it’s officially a classic. If you remove some songs, you can play it front to back. That’s how important the sequencing is.
“So with this album, me, Jay-Z, and Mark Pitts sat and sequenced the album, I realized, ‘Yo, you’ve got your whole life to put out these songs. Make sure this album is the best, it flows the best.’ That’s one thing about this album—I’ve been playing it and I literally listen to this front to back.
“That was the one thing I realized, the difference between it being a good album or a classic is the sequencing. We sat down for two hours and went over the sequencing and got a perfect sequence for the album. I had to cut three songs because it just made better sense. It flowed better as an album.”
Mark Pitts (J. Cole’s Manager): “I started out with the Bad Boy. I started out early on with Puff Daddy. Biggie was the first artist that I managed. I signed Lil Kim to Atlantic. I signed Shyne. I’ve been blessed to be involved with a lot of great things. That’s how I started out but then I became the VP at Universal. I went through the phase where I did the Biggie movie, Notorious.
I just wasn’t passionate about hip-hop. I figured that was it for me. Then, I heard J. Cole and he just pulled me right back in. - Mark Pitts
“I’ve been with Usher from the beginning. The Confessions album, that’s when I was over there. I signed Chris Brown. I’ve done plenty more with the rest of my career, like bringing Nas and Jay-Z together. I felt very proud of that moment. Right now, I’m the president of Jive, which is now RCA.
“I didn’t like where hip-hop was going [in the mid-2000s]. I’m a lyrical guy, I like lyrics. My bar is high. I wasn’t passionate about the other movement that was going on. I respect it and God bless it and all that, but I personally disliked it.
“I was doing great, though. I was working with Usher, Chris Brown, I was having a lot of success. I just wasn’t passionate about hip-hop. I figured that was it for me. I hadn’t really done the rap stuff in a while, I was kind of done with it. Then, I heard J. Cole and he just pulled me right back in.
“For some reason, when I pictured J. Cole, I pictured a short, brown-skinned dude. [Laughs.] When he started speaking, I was really impressed. I was like, ‘This kid knows who he is.’ My plan originally was making him a producer that could rhyme, but it felt like he was an MC that could produce. I loved his point of view. He actually made me want to get back into hip-hop. "